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African Program Shows Girls the Power of STEM

New technologies over the last two decades have opened up endless opportunities for engineers, inventors, and computer experts. Even with these increased opportunities, women worldwide are still being held back in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields that are mainly dominated by men.

A 2016 report showed that women only make up 37 percent of entry-level jobs in the technology field, and only 25 percent of women advanced to senior management roles in the same field.

This gender gap is an issue severely affecting women around in the world, especially in Africa. Only 30 percent of professionals in STEM fields are women, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics reported.

Some attribute this gender gap to a lack of role models in secondary education. In 2014, only 17 of Kenya’s 100 top students were women. There are also significantly less female teachers than male teachers.

“There has been an improvement in the number of women studying commerce undergraduate degrees,” Tanja Tippett, Investment Manager at Old Mutual Investment Group and Adjunct Associate Professor in the University of Cape Town’s Faculty of Commerce, said. “But even so, we still see very few continuing to postgraduate level.”

If young African girls do not see more women in STEM programs and jobs, they may not be inspired to break into the field, so there have been several women-led movements to increase encouragement for young girls who want to go into STEM fields.

One such woman is Angela Koranteng, who has earned the title of professional African coder. Koranteng attended Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and received her degree after taking courses in coding, civil engineering, and computer programming.

“I learned everything from scratch, whereas the boys already knew the basics,” she said. “My contributions [in class] were deemed less intelligent than those of my male counterparts.”

Now, the Ghana native is encouraging other young African girls to follow in her footsteps. In 2014, she helped found STEMBees, a non-profit organization that focuses on empowering and mentoring young African women who want to pursue careers and opportunities in STEM. They aim to create a community of women in STEM fields, which they call a SiSTEM, or Sisters in STEM.

STEMBees offers interactive workshops, events, camps and after-school programs that help keep girls engaged and intrigued in STEM. One program, called STEM 1.0, functions as a career awareness program and, though it is targeted towards girls, is also open to boys. Another program, called STEM 2.0, is more in-depth, and offers workshops in coding, math, and other STEM-related skills.

As of 2016, STEMBees was working with one private school and one public school, though Koranteng expressed a desire to expand the organization’s reach by receiving a certification from Ghana’s government to allow them to work with a larger school.

The organization has also partnered with other groups such as Reach for Change Ghana and the National Society of Black Engineers Ghana to increase their recognition, but they are still heavily funded by donors. You can support STEMBees and young African women in STEM by donating here.

Featured Image by The Kingsway School on Flickr

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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